The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for all of us, and this includes our youngest children.
It’s easy, and tempting, to think that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers aren’t affected by the pandemic. The truth is, though, that that life has changed for them, too — and for some of them it has changed dramatically. Even if the change is mostly positive for them — such as having their parents home all the time — it’s still a change that can be confusing and unsettling. Young children are less able to understand the nuances of all of this; for them, the world truly is all about them. And they also have very acute radar when it comes to the emotions of their caregivers.
As a pediatrician, I’ve been hearing from families about young children who are having trouble sleeping, whose eating habits have changed, who are crying or throwing tantrums for no good reason, or are just generally crankier and more irritable than usual. Some are more clingy, which can get tough for parents who are working from home.
So what can a parent do? It should be said up front that there are no magic answers or quick fixes; this is a hard time, and it’s going to stay hard until case numbers go down a lot or there is a vaccine, or both. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some strategies that can help.
Talk to your children about the pandemic — but keep it simple and optimistic
Obviously, this is more about preschoolers than infants and toddlers, but you need to have an explanation for why you can’t go on the swings or visit Grandma, or why you have to do a Zoom meeting instead of playing with blocks. Tell them that there is a germ that can make some of us sick, and we want to be sure that we don’t catch it or give it to someone else without realizing it.
As much as you talk about this, talk about how lots of people are working very hard to make the germ go away and keep us safe. Talk about all the things that you as a family are doing, like wearing masks (for children over the age of 2) and washing hands and staying a safe distance from others. It’s important to talk positively, not just because you want to keep things positive now, but also because at some point we will be going out more, and if you haven’t laid the groundwork, kids may be frightened when they begin to do things they weren’t allowed to do before.
Be mindful of the media your child is exposed to — and the things you say when they are in h